The danger of a single story

This study guide will help you analyse the speech “The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was presented at an official TED conference in July 2009. You can also find a summary of the speech, as well as inspiration for discussing it and putting it into perspective. In these notes, we will also focus on how Adichie engages her audience, her use of the term “a single story”, and on the issue of cultural ignorance.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The danger of a single story” (2009)
Sender: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Speech

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977) is a Nigerian writer. She is a notable feminist and promoter of African literature. Her works have received several awards and reflect her interest in African culture and the position of women in society. 

You can listen to the speech here.


Below, you can see a short extract from our study guide:


The title of the TED talk “The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reflects on the fact that stories can be used to mislead and dehumanise people. In her speech, Adichie states that “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar” (ll. 81-83). Stories change the way in which people think and feel about certain topics or events.

In the case of African culture, single-narrative stories (usually created by non-Africans) lead foreigners to develop a false image of Africa as a single country with beautiful flora and fauna but burdened by poverty and civil unrest. These stories also present African people as primitive and uneducated. Other single stories may leave out relevant historical facts, such as the negative effects of colonisation: “Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story” (ll. 73-75). African countries are often represented as poor and lacking a strong culture. However, these stories leave out the fact that, during colonial rule, many African countries were exploited for their resources, and Western culture and Christianity were forcibly imposed onto the native population, diminishing the local customs and beliefs.

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The danger of a single story

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